News & Media


Grubb, Stewart making best of awkward situation

December 02, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

LAS VEGAS -- Championship duo celebrating together knowing split coming after banquet

Darian Grubb sat at a table in the front of the media center at Homestead-Miami Speedway a couple weeks ago and stated the obvious.

"Five wins out of 10 Chase races? That's pretty good, huh? I think that speaks for itself," said Grubb, flashing a smile that seemed strangely forced.

Grubb had just sat on the pit box of the No. 14 Chevrolet driven to Victory Lane in the season-ending Ford 400 by Tony Stewart, who won his third Sprint Cup championship in the process. Stewart had yet to enter the room and word already had filtered to the media that, yes, it was true -- Grubb, who had just helped Stewart win the most coveted trophy in all of NASCAR, had something unexpected to go along with the team's new hardware.

A pink slip.

Grubb was out of a job, despite helping guide Stewart on the remarkable run to the title. The decision actually had been made in Stewart's mind before the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup started, and there was no going back for the owner/driver of Stewart-Haas Racing. Nothing, not even five wins in 10 weeks or another championship, could change that reality.

"We'd pretty much made our decision, and we made our decision off the last three years basically," Stewart said. "You don't make those decisions based off of three years and then change your mind two weeks later because you won a couple of races. There was more to it than that.

"But he's a great guy and a very smart crew chief, and the great thing is he can write his own check now. When it comes to whatever options he's going to have, he'll have a lot of leverage because of this championship. I'm proud of him for that."

This week the pair is in Las Vegas for Champion's Week to celebrate the championship. They sat at the same table for the Myers Brothers Luncheon on Thursday and then were separated by only a few feet -- Grubb standing, Stewart sitting -- during a media availability session afterward.

But Grubb, who delivered a moving, emotional speech during the luncheon after receiving an award for being the championship-winning crew chief, admitted the whole charade was uncomfortable. That much was evident the night they eventually sat at the same table following the title-clinching win at Homestead.

For Grubb in particular, he's caught between wanting to celebrate a unique season and the reality that faces him upon his imminent return to North Carolina.

"It's just tough. It's just awkward -- because we want to enjoy it, but we know things are changing," Grubb said. "We're just trying to do our best to enjoy the championship and everything we've earned and deserve, and then go from there."

Grubb admitted he knew going winless the first 26 races of the season and then barely making it into the Chase wasn't good enough to satisfy the man who signed his paychecks but yet was supposed to technically work for Grubb during race weekends. Grubb also caught on real fast that even winning the first two Chase races -- at Chicagoland and New Hampshire -- weren't going to change Stewart's mind.

He just wishes he understood better what he was supposed to do differently.

"This is a business and a sport," said Grubb, who has a mechanical engineering degree from Virginia Tech. "You have to have the performance out there every week -- and we definitely didn't have that the first half of the season. I don't disagree that they needed to make some changes. I just wish I knew what I could do better to try to fix that myself, so we could continue on as we were."

"The good thing is we're sitting here this week. We get to be together and we get to celebrate as champions together. We've run it all the way to a championship in a three-year period. I'm really proud of that."

--TONY STEWART

Stewart, meanwhile, started hearing as last season progressed that Steve Addington was unhappy as Kurt Busch's crew chief and might come available. He made the decision that Addington would be a better long-term fit for him as a driver than Grubb was, despite the fact that Stewart and Grubb, by season's end, would have teamed for 11 wins in points races in a scant three seasons together.

"I think it's just a little different mindset," Stewart said. "Obviously Darian's got a great engineering background -- and that was hard for me to follow a lot. So I think Steve's got a good blend of the technical knowledge and the practical knowledge at the same time, and I think that will help me."

Stewart admitted that his familiarity with Addington, who earlier worked at Joe Gibbs Racing while Stewart drove for JGR, also was a factor. The difficult part came in telling Grubb he was out even before their march to the championship commenced. Grubb said he wasn't told formally until just before the Charlotte race weekend in the middle of the Chase, but Stewart set the deal in motion weeks earlier.

"We made the decision actually before the Chase started," Stewart said. "We eventually sat down and I told him that it was up to him, but my goal was to finish out the year with him and get everything we could get. I told him that I still would like to try to win the championship. He said he was on board with that and wanted to try the same thing. It seems like an awkward decision, but we had made the call well before we got to the end of the year, obviously. There were other factors and variables we were looking at as well that we felt needed to be addressed, and we still feel like that.

"The good thing is we're sitting here this week. We get to be together and we get to celebrate as champions together. We've run it all the way to a championship in a three-year period. I'm really proud of that."

Grubb is trying to grasp what happened and keep it in perspective. He knows he still has a bright future in racing, and already has been offered a job by Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. Grubb worked there before joining SHR, and the two companies maintain a close technical alliance.

"There has been a lot of talk from a lot of people in the garage," Grubb said. "Mr. Hendrick obviously is a very close friend of mine, and I'm very honored to have that option to go back to Hendrick Motorsports if I want. They've laid something very good on the table in front of me.

"But like [Hendrick] has said, there are no crew-chief openings -- so now I have to decide if I want to continue crew-chiefing or do I want to step back into a management role. That's the toughest part of the decision, because right now I feel like we're on top of the game. I've scratched everything off the bucket list that I need to scratch off. Now what do I go do next?"

Grubb attempted to be philosophical about the split with Stewart.

"It was just a confidence and communication thing, a breakdown," Grubb said. "Sometimes you need to do something fresh in this sport. It's big business. You go out there and do everything you think of that you can do to give you the best chance to win every week, and put a show on for the fans and the sponsors. Luckily we were able to pull it together at the end and pull off the season we needed to have to win the championship."

Grubb admitted he is struggling to enjoy this week in Las Vegas, but said he is trying.

"It's tough because you're also in job-search mode and you're trying to wrap up everything from the end of the season," he said. "I'm moving out of the office, trying to get everything squared away to make the decision that I need to make for my future ... and it's just tough. The next two days, I'm just going to focus on enjoying getting the trophies and the recognition and everything else we've earned, and then we'll see how it goes from there."

For more information on the 2011 Sprint Cup Series awards ceremony and NASCAR Champion's Week, click here. For photo images from Champion's Week, click below.